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[Page 188]

Lowicz in Yiddish Literature

 

The Annual Fair
(Abridged)

by Shalom Ash

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

It was right after harvest time, the farmers had taken to the granaries their meager yield of grain and now they gathered at the market to sell their produce: with the profit they might buy a cow, or a pig, which they will feed during the winter and sell in the spring; some will bring their horse and put it up for sale, since after harvest time it was of no use to them anymore, or exchange it for a good piece of fur. Horse–dealers arrived from the entire neighborhood, seeking to buy horses for the Germans. Weeks earlier the fur dealers had already hired stalls in the market place and in the streets, and from early in the morning the steady clip–clap of the wagon–wheels across the bridge could be heard through town. The merchants from the neighboring villages and smaller towns came, their wagons loaded with large containers full of merchandise, and also with rods and poles to erect a stall in the market. There were also the simple “low–class” tailors, the cobblers, the hatters, the tanners with their wares – all that they have worked on during the long winter, preparing for the fair – hurrying to take hold of a good place for the shop. The local folks have already occupied the best locations in the center of the market, pushing the newcomers to the edge, toward the horse market and the pig market – often causing disputes and fights.

The entire town was expecting the annual fair, which provided the Jews with half of their livelihood. For R'Shlomo it was customary to take a hundred Zloty in small change and lend it to the poor people during the market days. There were times when the free–of–interest lenders [gemilut chasadim] would take a guarantee for their loan: a watch, a ring, a silver candlestick – half of which would be lost and half redeemed for the holidays.

*

Toward evening, the Gombin people arrived. These were the “orchard Jews,” who also sold fish from the big rivers. These Jews smelled of fine apples all year long. Their thick dark beards, which felt like pins and needles, were hiding the secrets of the dark river, where they caught their fish. These were Jews who were not afraid of any goy [gentile] and never felt that they were in exile. They lived with the earth, learned to catch fish in the dark rivers and grew up with the fruits of the moist orchard. Their faces and hands were getting a fine dark tan – they looked like sculptures of fine massive bronze. Every such Jew had a dozen children and lived the one hundred and twenty years of his life without sorrow and pain, earned his bread until the last minute of his life, and at the age of seventy he brought a new child into the world. The Gombiner were the mighty and powerful everywhere, and people were afraid of them. They were quick to go into fights and thought nothing of taking over market stands that traditionally belonged to other people. As soon as they arrived with their wagons, the fathers and their young strong sons went to the center of the market, demolished the standing booths, set up their own and displayed their furs. But the local people were not going to accept that quietly, and violence was sure to break out: the wives came out with hot water and poured it over the Gombin murderers – but of the Gombiners everybody was afraid, so in the end the locals retired and left the market place.

Then the Gostynin “wives” arrived. They were nicknamed “wives” because their husbands were poor “low–class” tailors and hatters, sat all week long at the old sewing machines, which would not work unless they were fed with a lot of oil, so that the pants and shirts that came out were drenched in oil. And while the men were busy at their work, the women took over the town. The men were afraid of them – they were thin, dried out little people, while the women were big and strong. The Gostynin maidens were famous in the world; a slap from such a woman was something that one was careful to stay away from. A Gostynin maiden was strong and ate for three. It was a pleasure to look into a Gostynin kitchen: the women were strong enough to rub the brass rings of the big barrels, to scrub with soda and sand the wooden planks – and all was always shining clean. Therefore, most of the Gombin young men chose to marry Gostynin women. They were perfectly suited to each other, and were not afraid of each other… And when the Gostynin wives came and put up their stalls, the Gombin “murderers” began to move aside – true, they were “murderers,” but one does not provoke Gostynin wives…

Then the Zachlin young butchers came; they were trading the meat among them, then take it to Note the restaurant owner who sent part of it to Lodz. When they showed up in town, the shining butcher–knives in their hands, everybody trembled. As soon as they appeared, they began looking for Gostynin brides for themselves.

A serious competition for them were the Krashnewitz horse–dealers. With their leather pants, matching boots and whips in their hands, they came to the fair to buy horses for the Germans. The Zhachlin butchers were afraid of them and tried to make conversation:

“Well, Sir, how are things?”

“Don't overwork your emaciated brain, you dude!”

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And so everybody was guarding the honor of their own town, yet soon they all became friends and together they went to Note the restaurant keeper to have a sip of liquor.

Meanwhile, the day ended and night began to fall, and in Note's restaurant the atmosphere was lively: the merchants began to arrive. Leah'le, the beautiful fat woman, Note's daughter, began broiling the fat geese and the fat ducklings. From Warsaw they had brought sausage and good liquor. She stood behind the bar, an earring in one ear, her long braids beautifully arranged and her neck washed clean – looking as tasty as her fat ducklings. She poured liquor for the merchants, they drank the “ninety” [percent alcohol] and for dessert they gave the fat and beautiful barmaid a good pinch, exactly where it was the most enjoyable to place the pinch…

Then the circus came to the fair. It was a Jewish circus, with a beautiful tightrope walker: a seventeen–old Jewish girl, with a head full of curly hair and a pair of black eyes, like a gypsy. She was thin, clad in a short red dress, over the jersey garment spread on her lean body, her eyes sparkling. On the benches around, the merchants sat and enjoyed the freshly broiled geese, while the beautiful sorceress kept twisting her body within the hoop, just for them.

Outside, the big tar torches were lit, to light the way for the merchants who were still arriving in town. There were the big freight–wagons loaded with large boxes full of ware, carrying also the poles and sticks ready to build the market stalls – from all places they came to the big fair, which provided the Jews with a livelihood for a whole year.

The peasants with their animals kept coming from the nearby villages, all during the night. From early in the morning the streets of the town were full of commotion, noise and shouting. The town changed its face – not to be recognized. The streets and the market were crammed with wagons and the red and other brilliantly–colored wraps on the women's backs burned in the warm sun. The church–songs of the beggars, mixed with the neighing of the young horses, the shrieks of the pigs, the calls of the various birds filled the air. The long black Jewish coats [kapotas] mixed with the white–gray jackets of the peasants, the everyday sad kerchiefs of the Jewish women with the brightly–colored shawls of the peasant women – all boiling together.

The Gostynin wives took one of the peasants to their stand, took off his shirt and began trying on all their jackets and all their hats. The peasant stood with his whip in his hand, wearing a new short jacket that the women had just put on him, holding a mirror and saying: well, just see how handsome you are!

In another corner, a Jew was unloading a sack of grain from a peasant's wagon, the latter throwing back the money he had received – it was not enough. One could hear the sound of the coins, the shrieks of the roosters, the curses of the peasants, the bargaining of the Jews – all blended together. And all of a sudden a peasant burst into the crowded market with his young horse, not looking and not caring whether there were people around…

In the midst of all this – wagons, Jews, peasants and horses – the Lowicz women spread out on the tables their multi–colored ribbons.

The local peasant women loved to wear the richly colored ribbons, and the men loved to adorn their hats with various colored beads; the bright blue–red colors of the ribbons and the little white beads were shining in the sun. The beautiful young peasant maidens with the thick braids and strong hands surrounded the ribbon stands, their eyes glued to the treasure of colors, and the young bridegrooms–to–be opened their wallets and bought presents for the girls. Soon the “Katarinka” [musical box] began to play. In the midst of the tumult a Jew began to sell the peasants lottery tickets. Then one of the Jews tried to buy from a peasant some ducks, although the peasant didn't intend to sell them at all – the Jew pushed money into his hand and tried to take the ducks from the wagon. The singing of the beggars, the shouting of the peasants, the shrieks of the ducks, the cries of the pigs, the bright colors of the ribbons, the red light of the women's wraps shining in the sun – all this was scrambled together: it was the roar of the great yearly fair.

(From the book: “R'Shlomo Nagid”)


Poland
(Excerpts)

by I. I. Trunk

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Uncle Mordechai–Ber owned a tavern, located exactly across the street from Uncle Avrahamke's crumbling house. To enter, one had to climb several wooden stairs. A constant smell of beer barrels and liquor emerged from the place, mixed with the smell of non–kosher sausage and fat broiled geese. It seemed that during the week nobody visited the place; the bottles of brandy and the barrels of beer continued to spread their smell, the fat sausages hung in a row on the thin ropes, and the brown open geese lay in their fat on the long dirty plates. The tavern was still; only the thundering laughter of Uncle Mordechai–Ber could be heard, and the loud cries of the pregnant

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or breast–feeding aunt Genendel, chasing away the hordes of her ravenous children from the tavern buffet. The true “judgment–day” was the weekly market–day in Osmolyn. This market–day was one of the most beautiful and colorful market days in Poland. Osmolyn belonged to the so–called Latvia Princedom. The rich farmers' population – for the Latvia soil is one of the richest in Poland – was famous in the entire country for its colorful and decorative dress. Even today, when one travels by train on a sunny summer Sunday through the Latvia region, the eyes are captivated by the wonderful romantic landscape and the colorful attire of the population moving through this landscape. The fields were divided by a juicy multi–colored kaleidoscope – the golden ripe wheat, the white flowers, the green grasses and the entire wide meadow – all this played together in an artistic perspective and delicate lighting. The farmers moved on the roads and in the fields, the colors of their clothing matching the colors of the landscape. The people belonged to the landscape; they were flowing with it in color and brightness. The Lowicz wraps, the farmer's clothes and the women's woolen dresses – this was the Lowicz scenery, woven by the hands and by the dreams of the Lowicz daughters.

The Lowicz landscapes, and the picturesque people that were moving on them, reminded one, in their primitive gracefulness, of the sunny colors of Van Gogh. When evening descended over the Lowicz fields, and the village church bells began ringing through the still, cooling twilight, the local world turned into a musical symphony of golden color, sound and mood.

*

As soon as the meager meal was over, tables were set near the barn, for the acquainted peasants and dignitaries. Grandfather Baruch wanted to serve them a festive meal, in honor of the wedding.

They filled the tables with special cakes and sweets, apples and pears, and large bottles of liquor. Near the tables they placed small barrels of liquor. The peasants, the young men and women who worked in Grandfather's stables, barns and fields, began to gather around. The peasants wore their customary blue Lowicz shirts and colorful trousers. The peasant women and the girls wore the colorful wraps and woolen dresses, which preserved in their colors the Lowicz fields and landscapes. They wore also strings of colored beads around their necks. The large courtyard smelled of hay and cow manure and the tables smelled of apples and pears. A peasant music band played joyful mazurkas and Polish wedding songs. The band consisted of violins, harmonicas and flutes. The peasant men and women danced Polish folk dances; the older peasants stood, chatting, around the music band and the dancers; the carriage drivers told stories about the great rabbis that they had taken in their carriages and about the young bridegroom. “So young and so pale” – said the goy who had driven R'Yehoshuele, while caressing his big moustache – and added: “but a very learned man. Our young lady will have a learned husband.” The older peasants shook their heads in agreement. The uncles, dressed in their silk long kapotas, were standing among the peasants, feeling “at home.” Uncle Mordechai–Ber, with the yarmulke on his head, very seriously described for the peasants the greatness and importance of each of the rabbinic in–laws, and the greatness of the Kalish Rebbetzin [the rabbi's wife], who lived in Warsaw, wore only velvet and silk even during weekdays, and ate nothing but butter cake and coffee. The pregnant aunt Genendel, who listened carefully together with all the peasants, received from Uncle Mordechai Ber a fine pinch in her fat behind, with all his six fingers. Under his big silk yarmulke, his eyes shone lustfully like the eyes of a wolf. He threw his glance toward the young shikses [gentile girls], who listened to the happy music of the peasant band and danced, spinning around their colorful dresses. His feet began to move; he was capable of grabbing a shikse and losing himself in a dance, as he was accustomed to do at the Osmolyn annual fair, but somehow his black shining silk kapota scared him and his nose still felt the smell of the heavy silk kapotas and the shtreimels [Hassidic fur hats] on the heads of the rabbis, who were sitting around the tables.

*

Gonsherowski was an old nobleman (I remember him from childhood) who spent his good years on horses and on women. When Jewish money lenders drove him out of his last piece of property, he took with him only his old princely coat, his Polish hat, a walking stick with a big silver button, a rifle, and his beloved dog Tresor that never left him for a minute and walked with him step by step. This was all that was left from his past riches. Gonsherowski managed to endure his fate thanks to the old fatalistic philosophy of the nobility.

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He was not at all concerned by the fact that, at his old age, he held a position by a Jew. He preferred to be working for a Jew, rather than for a Polish upstart. With his nobility pride, he hated peasants; against Jews he had nothing, although they had driven him out of his estate and sold his possessions at a public auction. He admitted outright that this was the world order: a town goy should be a cobbler, a peasant should be beaten, and a Jew must keep a shop or lend money with interest. This was the way of the world since Creation and it will be so until the end of all generations. And one is not allowed to make even the tiniest change in this world order. Gonsherowski was a devout Catholic and he was certain that the Divine Providence knew best how to run the world and that we, the sons of Man, were not allowed to offer opinions. Gonsherowski also took part in the Polish uprising in 1863, and his greatest pleasure was to sit with Uncle Leizer–Yosef over a glass of mead and tell the stories of the battles between the Partisans and the Cossacks in the deep and dark Polish forests. Gonsherowski told about the noblemen and the Jews that the Cossacks executed by hanging them on the trees of the forests. He also liked to tell stories about the good old times, when a nobleman could beat the peasants as hard and as much as he desired. When recalling all these sweet memories, the old nobleman became emotional and his eyes filled with tears.

*

When Grandfather Baruch, Grandmother Chaya and the bride appeared in the barn yard, the music band began to play lively melodies, the peasants formed a line and danced, and the wagon drivers and the shepherds who managed grandfather's cows and herds of sheep lashed their long whips. Some of the village dogs began barking, out of curiosity. The peasant girls threw blue field flowers toward the bride and all shouted: Long live the bride! The music became livelier and livelier.

*

Soon dancing started again. The girls sang Polish wedding songs and danced around the bride. Here the old Gonsherowski could not keep still any longer. His legs began to tremble, as if they were rejuvenated by the tempo of the music. He remembered the gala parties on his estates, long ago, when he kept special music bands and first–class dancers. His eyes became moist, shining with the old pride of the nobility. He approached the bride, the dog Tresor following him. He bowed deeply before the bride, held her by her waist and elegantly led her to the dance.

Here even uncle Mordechai–Ber couldn't resist. His eyes began to glow like the eyes of a wolf. He tore off his kapota, the Chassidic black coat, and threw it to aunt Genendel. In shirt sleeves and pants, with his black velvet yarmolka on his head, he began to rub his hands happily, like the peasants did. He grabbed one of the shikses from among the dancing couples, and began hopping around.

The music band played on, happier and happier.


Kutno – Lowicz

by I. Mastboim

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

The more we depart from the Kutno region and the fresh smell of the fish ponds weakens, the sparser the villages with the Mazowietzki peasant women, short, with thick legs and clad in Krakow dress, and the peasants in their long kapotas, not unlike the Hassidic dress. We encounter now another type of peasants, dressed in strange yellow pants and large round hats, reminding of the old Czechs. The men are tall, with long blond or brown hair; the women slender and coquette, with a touch of nobility and well–being. In fact, the Lowicz region is a center of the old nobility and aristocracy. The Polish nobility has a special echo in the Polish history, with its Princes and their character and interests, their national dress and their “Warsaw attire.” A Lowicz Polish lady is a key part of the Marshalkowska and Chopin Streets, mixed with Radziwill, Svyatopolk–Mirskin and Lyubamirskin noble ancestry. If you want to find in Poland a region, where people understand style, regularly visit the gym and have seen the temples of Venetian art – go to the Lowicz area.

A Lowicz lady was accustomed to get up late in the morning, sit by the coffee table and paint flowers, birds, landscapes – stroking the canvas with the painting brush and exclaim her feelings; she would sometimes also play the piano, turn her eyes to the East and suddenly call: “Create! Create!”

In short, if you wanted to see the heart of the Polish high–class society, this was the place to go. Not only the nobility represented the “high–society” but the peasants as well. In the villages of the Lowicz region there were peasants

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who, in addition to farming, were painters (painted “flowers”, “doves” and so on), musicians (played the guitar), and told stories about being registered in the Warsaw amusement park to dance mazurkas and other dances. This was the Lowicz region: the Christian “salon–dilettante.” As far as the town itself was concerned, the symmetrical build of its streets expressed little of the region's character and renown. A new market–place, an old market–place – in the Russian times people sold furs and rabbits, but now the markets are empty and the name Lowicz sounds foreign.

The cultural life today is clean and well–ordered. Lowicz gives the impression of a mediocre, but subtle intelligence. A Lowicz young lady knows French, Latin and English, is weak and sometimes pale, in tune with the types from the Warsaw “Shimanski” and “Trop” Schools…

The pulse of the Jewish life is quite weak, although a Jewish elementary school and a Children's Home do exist. But it is a city with a past. Take, for example, the Library with its large selection of books: we can see that the first Jewish literary enthusiasts worked there, as well as those who have participated in the Warsaw literary renaissance only 15 years ago; now, at the time of war, very few remained.

Looking back, we must mention also Kutno, which is closer to the Mazowietzki region and still carries the character of the Mazowietzki rural areas. Kutno is a town with a sharp instinct and inclination to culture, unlike the weaker and more refined Lowicz.

The Kutno culture smells of fishing and of a healthy element of woods and water. One of the Kutno qualities is the farmers' diligence and devotion to work and action. One day it could be a lecture about art, tomorrow a gymnastics festival, other times other topics. Always active, always in motion. Whether all this had a unique effect on the listeners – is another question.

Lowicz, however, is a place where people are not in a hurry and life is not a race. In this respect they are influenced by their Polish neighbors, who did not show eagerness for anything.

In general, I presented the two Polish cities as examples of two different landscapes. Kutno – the capital of the primitive rural region, Lowicz – the expression of the half–urban village.

(“Sketches and Pictures”, Warsaw 1912–1915)


The Enlightenment–Bank
(Fragment)

by Nachum Sokolov

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

On a summer afternoon of the year 1873 or 1874, two young people met in the “paradise” (Kroshinski's garden in Warsaw, where there was an “enlightenment bank”). One of them was already a family–man, with a small beard, the other still a young “rascal.” Both hurried to get a good place in the enlightenment bank. The older one was painting something on pieces of paper. The younger was looking – what did he paint there? It was a time of Grace, near sunset, when the day dies a “death by a kiss.” The West side of the sky was lit by the last brilliant rays of sun, through which small clouds tried to penetrate. The little flames of the last rays colored the clouds a deep red, covering the light of the setting sun. The two young people watched the sunset, seeing how sheaves of rays changed from golden to bluish and slowly disappeared…

The two young people were Peretz from Zamosc and me; we both had just left my grandfather's Yeshiva in Wyszogrod, and the Batei Midrash [schools of learning] in Plonsk, Lowicz and other places – one of us a “fresly–enlightened” and the other a curious observer, who tried to catch every impression, every ray of light, every echo.

Y. L. Peretz, “Personalities,” pp. 19–20


Fritz Lashes my Great–grandfather
(Fragment)

by Yakov Path

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

“My father makes tin ware”… says Esther.

“So we are related craftsmanship–wise. My father is a carver, and my grandfather and great–grandfather were also carvers…”

Baruch says, that his great–grandfather was a carver of Holy Arks for the synagogue:

“He carved Holy Arks for half of Poland, one of his Arks is still standing in the Zablodov synagogue. My father told us that his father carved the Ark during three years. I went to see his work – the angels' wings, the Tablets of the Law, the hands of the Kohanim.

Esther looks straight into his eyes, listens with interest:

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“Tell more, tell more…”

“My grandfather's name was Shneur the carver” – says Baruch and gently takes Esther's hand – “once the Lowicz nobleman called him and ordered him to carve for his church a big image of Jesus with a cross on his back. Our great–grandfather Shneur'ke refused, saying that he carved only holy objects. The nobleman became angry and ordered his thugs to lash to death my old great–grandfather, the blessed master, the carver Shneur'ke.”

Esther did not remove her hand from his. Her eyes became bigger and sadder, and he went on with his tale.

Aharon Hakohen [the High–Priest Aharon] brought his sacrifices on the Altar” – said Baruch – “and Betzalel who built the Temple was a craftsman, a carver. You, on the other hand, are a teacher, the daughter of Kohanim. But you say that your father was a craftsman – what is his name?”

“Leibe the tinsmith …

(Yakov Path “The teacher Esther,” p. 337)

 

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